Early Neutral Evaluations

Offering Perspective and Insight At the Beginning of Your Case image

For parties who have achieved readiness, the earlier a family law case resolves the less damage to future relationships, and generally speaking the less stress, delay and cost.

For custody issues, there is also some evidence that parents who have resolved custody and parenting time issues by agreement return to court with future parenting problems fewer times than parents who went on to obtain a custody evaluation or trial to resolve custody issues.

Minnesota family courts actively promote early resolution of family law cases. After you file your family law case with the court, in most Twin Cities counties, you will find yourself scheduled for an Initial Case Management Conference (ICMC). At that ICMC, a judge will discuss with the parties and attorneys a plan to develop and resolve your case.

You may be offered the opportunity to participate in Social Early Neutral Evaluation (SENE) or Financial Early Neutral Evaluation (FENE). SENE addresses custody and parenting issues. FENE addresses child support, spousal maintenance and property division.

Both SENE and FENE occur before either side has brought any motions or used formal court rules to obtain information from the other side (called discovery). The neutral will meet with the parties and their attorneys, listen to the facts, perspectives and proposed solutions of each side, and give an opinion as to what the neutral believes would be the most likely outcome if the case were tried on the facts then known. This is the evaluative phase of an SENE or FENE.

Then the parties and their attorneys have a chance to discuss settlement. This facilitative phase of SENE or FENE looks somewhat like a mediation. The parties may be in the same room together. They may be in separate rooms. It is the job of the evaluator at this point to assist the parties in reaching agreement. It is not the job of the evaluator to decide the case, however. If you need a decision, you may wish to consider arbitration or using your family law lawyer for a trial or evidentiary hearing instead.

Case readiness for either type of ENE involves an assessment of the parties as well as other aspects of the case. For example, sometimes the case development requires obtaining extensive information or analyzing that information before one or both sides can realistically discuss settlement. An example of that circumstance would be valuation of a business. In other cases, one of the parties is so emotionally distraught by the fact of a separation that he or she cannot focus on resolution.

I help my clients assess whether ENE is an appropriate choice of process and prepare the case and my client for the ENE session(s).

Schedule a Free Initial Consultation

To arrange a no-cost, no-obligation initial consultation about early neutral evaluations or any other Minnesota family law concern, call my Burnsville law firm locally at 952-641-7455 or toll free at 866-919-7417. You can also arrange a meeting via the online contact form.